McMenamins Elks Temple Finally Opens

You probably marked your calendar for this day back in December, so it’s hard to believe that today is the day that the McMenamins Elks Temple finally opens to the public. And the public is not messing around: The 7 a.m. opening time of the building was met with the excited anticipation of long lines stretching down the block — fans itching to see what the brilliant brothers have dreamed up for the 103-year-old building.

Ethan Wing, a long-time Tacoma resident, arrived an hour early to stake out his spot in line.

“I’ve been to a McMenamins before, sure, but this building is different,” Wing said. “I’ve lived in Tacoma for 19 years and this building has been sitting vacant and abused and dormant and beat up the whole time. And I’ve wanted to see it that whole time. I’m most looking forward to the architecture and the history inside.”

Joyce Clifford also knows the level of quality to expect from a building attached to the McMenamins brand.

“I’ve been to McMenamins in Portland, and on the Columbia, and in Centralia, and I just think they’re fun,” she said. “I’m anxious to see what the menu is and to see all the decorations inside. Our anniversary is next week, and we’ve already booked a room.”

People admire the elaborate antique light fixtures early this morning. Photo by Jeff Hobson.

Renee Rank Ignacio, McMenamins marking director, anticipates that the buzz in the air around the community today as they wait to see the building will last for a while.

“That’s what we hope, anyway,” she laughed. “With what’s happening in downtown Tacoma with the museums and the festivals and everything, we’re just another piece of that pie to add to what folks are already coming to Tacoma for. We’re really excited to be a part of the whole community of Tacoma and finally have our doors open to everybody.”

At the pre-opening event on Monday — which itself attracted about 1,500 people from near and far who were eager to explore every hallway — opening week was kicked off with a toast by columnist Dan Voelpel. In 2006, Voelpel wrote a column in The News Tribune advocating that McMenamins start a project in Tacoma. He asked readers to email in their support.

An overwhelming amount of people did so, bringing Mike McMenamin’s attention to Tacoma and resulting, ultimately, in the magnificent project that opens today. For the 180 people who wrote in and cc’d Voelpel on the email, he promised an opening celebration with “the Black Rabbit Red on me.”

On Monday evening just before 5 p.m., Voelpel made a toast from the stage of the Spanish Ballroom, now a concert hall with performers already booked starting at 5 p.m. tonight. Supporters packed in and listened in a hushed excitement.

“This building is about the workers on whose backs this pipe dream of ours came to life,” Dan Voelpel said. “It’s about the residents of Tacoma and beyond who will get to enjoy this building for decades to come.”

Mike McMenamin, a main visionary of the project and the brother who responded to Voelpel’s request so many years ago, also said a few words about the enormous amount of work that went into the building over the many years McMenamins has owned it.

Mike McMenamin. Photo by Zoe Branch.

“This was a very hard project to imagine,” McMenamin said, shaking his head from the stage. “So, we let our imaginations just run rampant, and then tried to distill it down to something that made sense in the end. It’s been 16 years since we’ve fallen in love with this building. It’s been the most difficult project we’ve ever been involved in, and it’s been the most fulfilling project we’ve ever been involved in. It took the whole army to pull this off, and everyone who’s been involved should be damn proud of themselves.”

And today, Tacoma, it’s all handed off to you. So, line up, put your name in for some delicious food concoctions, grab a drink, and explore the building’s seven stories of maze-like wonder: We promise it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Editorial intern Cassandra Ingram contributed to this report. 

is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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